Monday, January 20, 2014

Book Review

"A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke" by James Horn

"A Kingdom Strange: the Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke" is a well-researched account of Sir Walter Raleigh’s failed attempts to establish an English settlement in North America. Raleigh wished to found a thriving colony to accomplish four purposes: to attack more effectively Spanish treasure ships returning to Spain from Central and South America; to keep Spanish settlement out of North America; to obtain great wealth by harvesting the land’s natural resources, in particular gold and silver; and to discover an easy passage to the Pacific Ocean and the trade-rich orient.

Historian James Horn takes us methodically through the separate voyages to North Carolina’s Outer Banks and Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds beginning with the exploratory voyage of Arthur Barlowe and Philip Amadas in 1584 and ending with John White’s tragic attempt in 1590 to re-connect with the settlement he as governor had been forced to leave three years earlier to address in London the settlement’s need for relocation and its shortage of food and supplies.

Horn introduces us to the local Native American culture. He narrates effectively the arrogance and brutality of Captain Richard Grenville and Governor Ralph Lane and the eventual recognition by tribal leaders that these foreigners and their men are not gods nor allies but avaricious enemies. We see the measures taken by the Secotan Indians to rid themselves of these Englishmen, and we witness Governor Lane’s vicious retaliation. We feel artist-turned-idealistic governor John White’s frustration and anguish as he attempts to plant a new colony after Lane and his soldiers return to England. We recognize White’s need to return to London to arrange for additional settlers and supplies to be transported to Roanoke to enable the settlement to move to a safer geographic location. We learn why three years elapse before he is able to return. We see the little evidence he finds that leads him to believe where the people of his abandoned village have relocated. We feel his despair as he is prevented the opportunity to verify his supposition. We then judge the validity of the author’s theory of the fate of White’s “lost” colony.

Immediately after I retired from teaching, I researched this subject matter and wrote a brief YA manuscript that if copied future Orinda, CA eighth grade students could have read. Horn’s narration, published years afterward (2010), has provided me tidbits of information I didn’t known. (Example: Walter Raleigh’s promotional efforts, planning, and preparatory actions that preceded each voyage) Horn’s footnotes offered me additional information. His timeline of events that affected discovery and colonization in America from 1492 to 1701 is also useful.

If I choose to write a full-length novel about the clash of English explorers and settlers and Native Americans at Roanoke, James Horn’s book will serve as an important secondary source. Concise yet detailed, quite readable, it would benefit any reader seeking to learn about the origins of our country’s past.